Governor, mayors and others celebrate new Maine Water facility

San Jose Water Group President and CEO Eric Thornburg, Maine Water CEO and Connecticut Water President Maureen Westbrook, Maine Water President Mark Vannoy and Maine Governor Janet Mills, toast – with blueberry or lemon flavored water – at the official opening of the Saco Center River Drinking Water Resource in Biddeford on Wednesday July 27. The $60 million plant supplies up to 12 million gallons of water per day to 40,000 area customers. Photo by Tammy Wells

BIDDEFORD – When Governor Janet Mills took to the podium to help celebrate the opening of the Saco River Drinking Water Resource Center on Wednesday July 27, she expressed her gratitude for all the work that had gone into the new $60 million facility serving 40,000 Maine Water customers in Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach and the Pine Point section of Scarborough.

“It would make Ed Muskie proud,” Mills said, citing the name of the former U.S. senator from Maine who championed the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Maine Water President Mark Vannoy and Maine Governor Janet Mills listen as biologist Mary Jane Dillingham, water quality manager for the Saco River Drinking Water Resource Center, explains the lab tests. Mills was among those who toured the facility at the official opening on Wednesday, July 27. Photo by Tammy Wells

The new state-of-the-art facility, almost directly across South Street from the original 1884 factory of the Biddeford & Saco Water Company, went online in June. Soon, Maine Water President Mark Vannoy said, the old plant, located in the floodplain of the Saco River, will be decommissioned. This action will mark the final chapter of a facility that served the district for 138 years, including during the floods of 1936, 1953 and 1987.

“When Maine Water bought the Biddeford & Saco Water company in 2012, it was very clear that the plant needed to be replaced,” Vannoy said.

It took time and a lot of work — and investment, made possible because Maine Water is part of San Jose Water Group, a company that operates in multiple states, Vannoy said.

“The Saco River Drinking Water Resource Center will help us fulfill our mission to thousands of Maine residents by providing high quality water and exceptional service while protecting the environment and improving our communities,” said Eric Thornburg, Chairman, President and CEO of SJW Group.

The new plant has the capacity to supply up to 12 million gallons of water a day – and even though Maine Water implemented a rate increase a year ago, a gallon of water costs roughly one penny per gallon, Vannoy said.

New technologies and processing systems increase efficiency, reduce costs and use fewer resources than the old plant, he said.

From 2023, 100% of the energy needs of the new facility will be met by an on-site solar panel.

Vannoy said the company is committed to the environment and noted that the property is landscaped with native plants, including a 10,000 square foot pollinator garden. Approximately 250 acres are protected as open space, with future plans for public access.

A reception to mark the opening was held at the Kirby Littlefield Training Room, named after the longtime employee who worked for the company for 56 years, keeping the old factory running.

In total, the Biddeford-Saco division of Maine Water employs 30 people.

“It was a pleasure to see this happen,” said Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, who said he visited the old factory 13 years ago. “I was appalled,” he said. “It was archaic and extremely tired.”

Investing in public sector infrastructure does not come easily, the mayor noted.

“This is a remarkable example of what needs to happen on a national scale,” Casavant said.

Working with Maine Water has been a pleasure, he added.

“They always did what they said they were going to do,” Casavant said.

“This is an investment not just for today, but for the future,” Saco Mayor Bill Doyle said, agreeing that more infrastructure projects need to happen.

Noting that 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Mills quoted the late Senator Muskie: “Our planet is plagued by a cancer that threatens our very existence and that will not respond to the kind of treatment that was prescribed in the past. The cancer of water pollution has been spawned by our abuse of our lakes, streams, rivers and oceans; it thrived on our half-hearted attempts to control it; and like any other disease, it can kill us.

The new facility is more resilient to the impacts of climate change, she said.

“My administration is proud to support projects like these that preserve Maine’s clean air and clean water,” Mills said.

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